The Elephant In The Room: Prepare To Be Surprised

I rolled and pinched, fashioning the amorphous lump of clay into a smug looking elephant. Like most 7-year-olds, creating an artistic masterpiece came as naturally and unselfconsciously as breathing and eating. When my new friend emerged from the kiln, she was a bit worse for the wear, but nothing a bottle of Elmer’s glue couldn’t fix. Having been raised on a steady diet of Picasso, Warhol and Suess (as in Dr.), I could think of no better color to paint her than tangerine orange. From her conception, there was something so unmistakably endearing about this earnest creature, full of wonky sensibility, you couldn’t help but fall in love.


Take A Breath, contemporary oil painting on canvas, Deb Lawrence, 2013

As a “grownup” artist, I attempt to depict authentic emotion and experience, finding satisfaction in that which is intensely genuine and ultimately imperfect. My abstract oil paintings center on Winnicott’s notion of transitional objects, akin to security blankets and other beloved objects. It’s not a coincidence that I work directly on the floor, from all four sides, grasping, folding, painting…imbuing my paintings with a veritable soul. While some never quite “make it,” others magically come to life. That’s part of the obsession, I think, with making art and collecting art. Art…good art … has a palpable soul, which speaks to us. Once we’re hooked, there’s no turning back.


That seems to have been how it went for Herb Vogel, a former postal clerk, and Dorothy, his librarian wife, who began collecting contemporary art in 1962. Despite their meager incomes, and 1-bedroom flat, they amassed an astounding collection of over 5,000 pieces. They bought what they liked, what they could afford, and what they could carry home. They often purchased art from artists just starting out. Their entire collection, which they donated to museums prior to Herb’s death in 2012, is now valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Dorothy and “Herbie” (as Dorothy liked to say) were passionate, humble, generous souls, not unlike many Clevelanders I know. They believed the best way to understand and appreciate art was to see lots of art, and live with lots of art. 


Whenever I return from international art fairs and gallery exhibitions, I am struck anew by the quality of art right here in Cleveland. The Cleveland art scene has long been a hibernating giant…but that is changing. Check out the Gwarlingo blog post, “The Cleveland Art Scene: Be Prepared To Be Surprised,” by Michelle Aldredge, which sings our praises around the globe. Cleveland’s best kept secret, the elephant in the room, is showing her verve. So, see lots of Cleveland art, and live with lots of Cleveland art. Buy what you like, buy what you can afford, and buy what you can carry home…or rent a truck!


Don’t Get Burnt, contemporary oil painting on canvas, by Deb Lawrence, 2013


Deb Lawrence

Tower Press Building

1900 Superior Avenue, Studio #101

Cleveland, Ohio 44114



Prepare To Be Surprised

Exhibition of Contemporary Works

Friday, July 26, 5-9 p.m.

Wooltex Gallery, Tower Press Building